Updated 4-1-2021

Paper recycling is the environmentally friendly process of recycling paper that has already been consumed in order to make fresh, usable paper. Each day, tons of paper are consumed nationwide, and after being used for documents, writing and printing, it’s usually thrown away as scrap.

Unless it is recycled, paper becomes part of garbage dumps and landfills, contributing to problems like greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Paper recycling can alleviate many of these problems by turning this scrap paper into new paper.

Paper waste

Wood is the best source of pulp for making paper, but used paper is also a rich source of pulp. Writing and printing on paper does not remove the fiber content, and fiber eventually becomes paper.

Here’s How The Process Of Recycling Paper Works:

Step 1: Collection

The first step of the paper recycling process involves recyclers and paper merchants collecting paper from paper waste bins and combining it together in a large recycling container. It’s worth mentioning that contaminated paper cannot be accepted for recycling of paper. So, the paper has to be gathered separately without it mixing with other products. 

Step 2: Sorting and transportation

The paper is then measured and graded for quality. Grading is an essential step because it grades paper according to its properties. Paper with similar properties has similar amounts of fibers that can be extracted from the pulp. The graded paper is then taken to the paper recycling business facility. At the recycling facility, the quality and quantity of paper are measured. This step determines whether the paper is accepted or rejected; if accepted, the purchase contract is issued to the recycler. 

The accepted paper is then further sorted depending on its surface treatment and structure. In this step, the paper is arranged into different categories such as papers, magazines, newspapers, office paper, etc. Sorting is an essential step because the sorted paper is then treated differently in the next stages to generate different recycled paper types.

Step 3: Shredding and pulping

The paper is shredded into small bits. A large quantity of water and chemicals like sodium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, and sodium silicate is added to the shredded paper to break it down into separate paper fibers. 

This forms a slurry solution, also known as pulp. This is the raw material for making recycled paper, and it has an oatmeal consistency. The process of converting recycled paper into pulp is called pulping. 

The slush then undergoes different processes, including passing through a series of screens and centrifugation to remove contaminants such as glass, glue, staples, tape, paper clips, plastics films, etc., that are present in the recovered paper. 

Step 4: De-inking

The cleaned pulp is then added to a floatation tank.  The chemicals and air bubbles in the tank remove the ink and dyes from the pulp to enhance the quality (purity and whiteness).

Hydrogen peroxide and other whitening agents are added to enhance the whiteness of the product. If the desired white color is not reached, more bleaching agent may be added. This step will continue until the pulp is ready for further processing.

Dyes may be used to create colored paper products. A small amount of blue or black dye may be used to create white printing paper. The bleaching step is skipped to create brown paper pulp used to create paper towels. 

After this step, the pulp is 99% water and 1% fiber. This pulp can be combined with pulp made with new materials to enhance its properties.

Step 5: Drying and getting it ready for reuse

In this step, the pulp is made to pass through rollers where the excess water is pressed out. A vibrating machine can also be used to make the pulp 50% water and 50% fiber. The pulp can be used by itself, or virgin wood fiber can be added to give extra strength and smoothness to the paper.

If the desired product is a coated paper used for smooth printing, a coating mixture can be added at the end of the papermaking process. 

The sheets then go through steam-heated rollers that are heated at temperatures as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This flattens the paper to form long rolls of continuous paper sheets, with each roll weighing up to 27 metric tons and is as wide as 30 feet. 

Potato starch coating may be applied at this stage to keep the ink from spreading. The paper rolls are then sent to various manufacturers that use paper to make their products. 

Examples of Recycled Paper Products

We use recycled paper in our daily lives without even knowing it. Statistics say that an estimated 200 million tons of paper and cardboard are manufactured annually from recycled paper sources. 

The most common examples of products made from recycled paper are as follows:

  • Magazine and newspapers  
  • Toilet paper and tissues 
  • White printing paper 
  • Greeting cards 
  • Paper towels and napkins 
  • Cardboard

It is essential to note here that paper recycling is not comparable to other types of recycling, such as aluminum recycling. With metals, the metallic properties are retained after repeated recycling, but recycling paper leads to reduction in the length of fibers. Eventually, recycled paper will reach a point where it can no longer be recycled.

One of the best option to recycle paper is to use paper shredder, it is just a mechanical device which cut paper into chad,strips or fine particles. You could also invest in a document shredders that cuts up materials, which makes it ideal for manufacturing industries, large offices, small businesses. document shredders make life easy and risk management a breeze.

Various steps involved in paper recycling process.

Different Forms of Recyclable Paper

Not all types of paper can be recycled, but most can. These include:

  • Old Corrugated Containers/Cardboard– Commonly consists of layers of paper joined together with a ruffled or grooved inner liner
  • Double Line Kraft– Double line cuttings from corrugated boxes
  • Old Newsprint– Old newspapers that have been read or were printed with extra issues
  • White Ledger – Non-glossy and printed/non-printed white letterhead, typing/writing and copy machine paper
  • Colored Ledger– Non-glossy and printed/non-printed colored paper
  • Coated Book Stock– Coated free sheet paper
  • Computer Print-Out– Color barred or blank computer paper (commercial forms or primers’ inks may not be accepted by recycling centers)
  • Phone Books – New/used telephone books
  • Magazines– Use dor over issue magazine copies, which could be pre-sorted or baled
  • Sorted Office Waste– Various kinds of papers collected from offices and organizations, like notepads, booklets, fliers, white/pastel copy and writing paper, white/multi-stripe computer paper, letterheads and envelopes etc.
  • Mixed Paper– Variety of papers that have not been sorted may include office papers as well as newsprint, magazines, etc.

Advantages of Recycling Paper

Virgin paper will always be superior to recycled paper for many applications, but recycled paper has some incredible advantages too:

  • Sustainability – Forests are getting depleted and the desire for environmental well-being has led to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which combines the continuous growing and harvesting of trees with long-term protection of wildlife, plants, soil, and water quality.
  • Environmental Impact – The primary component of paper is wood pulp, which is obtained from trees. Recycling paper results in reduced usage of wood as the raw material, which means less forest depletion and a host of environmental benefits.
  • Reduction of Emissions – Less energy is spent on recycling paper which ensures that fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. Since decomposition causes methane emissions, recycling paper cuts these down too.
  • Fiber Supply – Recycled paper ensures that the available supply of fresh fiber is extended. This leads to carbon sequestration, which means more carbon in the soil.
  • Landfill Space – As more paper is recycled, less land is filled with waste paper. This saves the scarcest resource of all, i.e. land.
  • Water Consumption – Virgin paper production consumes a lot more water than recycling paper, so a substantial amount of water is saved through waste paper recycling.
  • Waste Disposal – Paper forms a huge component of everyday waste and tends to solidify, increasing the weight. Recycling paper means less waste to deal with.

Let’s take a look at some facts about paper making:

  • Fresh or virgin paper is made from pulp.
  • This pulp is most commonly made from wood although other materials such as cotton, bamboo and sugarcane waste can also be used.
  • The pulp, a mixture of water and fibers, is then pumped into screen mats.
  • These rolling mats vibrate steadily to dry the moisture and create paper.

Grades of Paper

A very important aspect of paper recycling is the grade of the paper. Paper is recycled over and over up to 7 times. And as it is recycled, the paper fibers become shorter until they are of no use. And the length of the fiber is what determines the grade of the paper. There are typically 5 grades; let’s understand each. 

Old Corrugated Containers – Also known as corrugated cardboards, their use can be seen in product packaging. 

Mixed Paper – Mixed paper is a broad category that covers paper used for phonebooks, mails, magazines, books, etc. 

Old Newspapers – This category consists of newsprint, tissue papers, and other similar products. It is a lower grade paper created in mills using newspapers. 

High-Grade Deinked Paper – This category covers copy paper, envelops, letterheads, etc. that go through the process where ink is removed from them. 

Pulp substitutes – It is the scrap that mills discard and is usually of no use. However, you may find it in some products you use.

Paper is one of the everyday products that will continue to find heavy usage, even in these digital times. By recycling paper, incredible environmental advantages await in exchange for a small sacrifice in paper quality!